WELL, THE DOOR HAS BEEN FLUNG OPEN WIDE, 2022 has pushed its way in, and we have a lot of new readers who’ve come along with it. So right now feels like a good time to get newcomers up to speed on what’s been going on around here. (Apparently, a few people think a salad newsletter is a “dumb” idea; these are not our kind of people.) And a good time also to refresh everyone else’s memory about, I don’t know, that steak salad you meant to make—or was it one of these steak concoctions?—until you got distracted by the fruit salads (Cantaloupe and Cucumber Salad with Herb-Lime-Chili Pepper Vinaigrette, Portia’s Nevisian Pineapple Salad with a Spicy Twist) or the All Dressing Issue.
We’ve made a LOT of salad, obviously, and today we have a new one for you that is actually not a recipe per se and is not new at all but quite old. Weird, right? For those of you coming in late, that’s just how perverse we can be at the Department of Salad. We believe in expanding the idea of what a salad can be—rather than trying to fence it in. We love a vintage dish as much as something fresh and new. And it’s our view that anything can be a salad, as long as it’s edible. That is the jazz-like nature of the dish. Lots of improvisation is good but you need to start with a melody, so we offer recipes to inspire you.
So if you’re stuck on the idea that salad is a box or bag of “field greens” (where is this ‘field” from which lettuce factories get all that stuff; it must be huge) decorated with a few chopped things you found in your crisper, or you’re looking for a new tuna salad, or hankering for the kind of salad they used the eat in Hollywood, or wondering if it’s possible to recover the delicious watercress dressing your late grandmother made, which she learned while she was a ski bunny in Vail, Colorado, you’ve come to the right place.
We do issues that are straight up salad, but many of your favorites have also involved human beings, meaning interviews with people we have stalked and demanded a salad from.
We credit our great food and writing friends Mollie Katzen, Mary Norris, Phyllis Grant, Domenica Marchetti, Gabrielle Langholtz, and Kevin Conley with putting us firmly on the newsletter map back in our early days, at the end of 2020, when we were just beginning to feel our way. They brought all the salad makers to our yard with their expertise, great recipes, and beautiful storytelling.
The boys in the lab and I soon opened the doors here to a wide array of friends (and to strangers who became friends) who gave new meaning to the words “garden salad,” helped us make a great Cobb salad while also thinking about food waste; showed us that pimiento cheese can be both a sandwich spread and a salad; introduced us to the unforgettable pleasure of Japanese potato salad; made us realize you can make a crouton out of so much more than bread; and reminded us that pickles are an essential salad ingredient.
Regarding our most-read and reader-favorite issues of the Department of Salad: In addition to a post in which I announced that I was taking a week off (that hurt my feelings a little bit), you all went nuts for one of our most recent, about the Southern activist chef Bill Smith; the crowd-sourced tuna salad issue; the retired decorated-cookie maven Gail Dosik’s (almost) shaggy dog tale of a long-lost nostalgia-laden department store salad; John Donohue’s inspiring story of becoming an artist and his quinoa salad; my own Potato and Roasted Artichoke Salad with Herbed Parmesan Bread Crumbs and Lemon Garlic Dressing; a spicy cherry salad from the former chief strategy officer at the James Beard foundation; and New Yorker magazine cartoonist Carolita Johnson’s favorite classic French salad from her years abroad—just to name a few.
Our open threads—in which paid subscribers discussed their salad likes, dislikes, dreams, and nightmares—are always super-popular. We’ll do more of those this year, but they are so chock-full of good salad info and ideas and possible recipes for me, personally, that I’m selfishly taking my time getting around to answering some of the last ones.
The Department of Salad is a reader-supported exploration and celebration of salad in all its many forms—with recipes. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. The best way to support us is to take out a paid subscription.
We don’t have room to be comprehensive as we skip down memory lane, but now that you’re on board, you’ll have access to all issues and recipes from the last year (and 2 months; we started in October of 2020). Paid subscribers have access to the entire archive and free subscribers have access to all free issues and recipes.
If you’d like to take a stroll through that giant garden, click here (but you can always just do an internet search for The Department of Salad). Once you’re here, you can also look for particular recipes you’ve lost track of by using the search button. See the super-sophisticated illustration of where it’s located (under the first post when you open the page) below:
We’ll update and send out an index of recipes by issue as soon as humanly possible. And good news for those of you who’ve asked more than once: Substack is working on implementing printable recipes.
Okay, since this is a salad newsletter, I want to give you a “salad” that was in constant rotation on my house menu for 15 years—I called it The Pale Green Salad. It was supremely adaptable, easy to throw together when you realized there was nothing green on the table, and required zero lettuce. At some point, I put it down and forgot it, but certainly not because it wasn’t delicious. Maybe it reminded me of some sad losses, and I couldn’t bear to see it on the plate. Or maybe I just got tired of it. Not every recipe has some big story attached to it, thank the Lord.
I remembered this salad just recently while reading a roundup in the New York Times of their 20 most popular recipes of 2021. Only two of them were for salad—both of which looked delicious, neither of which really required a “recipe” per se, and one of which was quite similar to my forgotten salad.
Anyway, after seeing the popularity of this exquisitely simple New York Times recipe, I got a little jealous. But I also realized that even though I crow about the porous walls between what is and is not a salad and even about what constitutes a recipe, I have not been walking the walk myself. If you’d asked for a recipe for the Pale Green Salad back when I made it all the time, I would have told you: just put the stuff in a bowl, dress it, eat it.
But that’s not fair, because the people who asked have not eaten it so many times that it’s become rote. The least a person can do is write something down. I also recalled that every time I post a photo of my Aunt Mariah’s green beans with a side of her cucumbers and onions (it happens more often than you might imagine) people always say, Ohhhhh what is that salad? I don’t even think of it as a salad. She always serves it with her green beans and potatoes. That’s its purpose. I’ll give you that “recipe,” too, later, once I pin Aunt Mariah down for her exact method.
*RECIPE: The Pale Green Salad
Think of cucumbers and onions as your back-pocket salad—something to serve when you’re sick of watching lettuce die in your fridge but still want something green and crunchy and refreshing. The New York Times recipe by Ali Slagle is terrific. I love the red pepper flakes and scallions, which remind me a little bit of Tiger Salad, minus the sesame, etc. It’s so simple.
You really need only cucumber and onions to have a perfectly nice salad, dressed with a little vinegar and salt (cucumbers love salt). Mine started as just cucumber, avocado, red onion, and tart vinaigrette with very little oil. But as time rolled on, this salad picked up other pale green bedazzlements that were both pretty and harmonious. You should feel free to do the same thing. I used basil as my herb here because I had it, but I love chopped chives in this, too.
A dressing that reverses the usual ratio of acid to oil is always good with cucumber, which really doesn’t need oil at all. And since the avocado adds fat here—even better. I used sherry vinegar this time, but red wine and cider vinegar are good, too
Again, this is more of a guide than a recipe, but it’s a good one to get you started.
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
2 English cucumbers (the long, cellophane-wrapped ones), peeled and seeded, then sliced into 1/3 inch or so half-moons.
2 firm avocados, peeled, seeded, and diced (I’m very pro-firm avocado in salads; you don’t want a bowl of mush, plus firmer avocados have a nice nutty flavor and lovely texture)
3-4 tablespoons finely diced red onion
2-3 tablespoons freshly sliced basil leaves or chives (optional)
1-2 small celery stalks (use the very pale, tender inner stalks) thinly sliced, plus a few tablespoons of the leaves, chopped (optional)
1 small head endive, thinly sliced crosswise (optional)
extra flaky sea salt to finish plus freshly ground black pepper if desired
Make the dressing by combining the first three ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shaking to emulsify. (You may want to double the dressing recipe; it keeps forever and too much is better than not enough.)
Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl; pour some of the dressing over and gently toss. Taste for more dressing. Serve with flaky sea salt at the table.
THAT’S IT. WE’RE DONE HERE! Apologies for this late issue, to those of you who count on seeing it on Sunday. (I think I’ve caught something, but I plan on getting the usual extra salad treat out to the special midweek crowd, anyway.) Thanks for reading, and if you feel like sharing the Department of Salad with friends or family who deserve it, please do so with the buttons below.